This could be for you if:
- You want to know about benzos
- You or someone you know uses benzos
- You want to know what to do when someone overdoses
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (also known as a benzo or benzos) are a type of prescription drug. They’re classified as a depressant, and doctors generally prescribe them short-term as a sedative to assist people who can’t sleep. They can also be prescribed to treat anxiety issues, to relax muscles, and to treat epilepsy.
While benzos are prescription medication used to treat particular conditions, they are also used by some people:
- to help tackle the negative side effects of coming down off a high from stimulant drugs like ecstasy or speed
- to amplify the effect of heroin, or by people who use heroin when heroin isn’t available.
However, possessing and using benzodiazepine medications without a prescription from a qualified doctor is illegal, and can have legal consequences.
What do benzodiazepines do?
The effect of benzodiazepines will vary from person to person. Someone who's just taken benzodiazepines can become:
- calm and relaxed
They can also experience:
- decreased memory and co-ordination
- blurred vision
- body trembling (aka ‘the shakes’)
- mood swings and aggressive behaviour.
Higher doses of benzodiazepine can make a person over-drowsy, and force them to sleep. The exact effects of benzodiazepines, however, depends on a number of factors including:
- a person’s body size and physical health
- size of the dose consumed
- other drugs a person has taken
- whether a person has already built up a tolerance to the effects of benzos from previous use.
What are the long term effects?
Taking benzodiazepines regularly also has long-term effects. They include:
- Sleeping problems and tiredness
- losing motivation
- Struggling to remember things
- Mood swings or aggression
- Emotional changes
They can also include more physical effects such as:
- Weight gain
- Muscle shrinkage
- Irregular periods for females
- Sexual problems
Problems with benzodiazepines
Benzos are addictive, and using them a lot can give you a tolerance, where you need to take increasingly higher doses to experience a noticeable effect.
Mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs is extremely dangerous. If they're mixed with alcohol, heroin, methadone or another downer, the depressant effect can cause unconsciousness and stop your brain being able to control your breathing.
More commonly people take benzos in tablet form, but they can also be injected. There are extra dangers if you inject benzos. Overdose is more likely, you can get collapsed veins from injecting, and you also risk HIV or other blood borne viruses from sharing needles.
It is possible to overdose when using benzodiazepines. If you or someone you know is at risk of overdosing or having negative physical symptoms, you should call an ambulance. Don't worry about getting in trouble – the paramedics will only involve the police if they feel they’re in danger, if someone dies, or if there are non-drug crimes involved (such as violence or theft).
While you're waiting for the ambulance, you should:
- stay with the person
- stay on the phone to Emergency Services until they hang up
- make sure the person's got air by loosening their clothes and checking their airways
- give emergency services as much info about what they've taken as you can.
Tolerance to benzodiazepines builds up fast, and it's hard to quit. Most people who get hooked get withdrawals when they stop. This is stuff like:
- Headaches, faintness or dizziness
- Shaking, sweating, vomiting and cramps/pains
- Weird dreams, insomnia and spaceyness
- Trouble concentrating
- Heightened senses
These reactions are temporary, but they’re no fun at all. If you're on benzodiazepines for medical reasons, it’s really important that you talk to your doctor about your usage, particularly if you’re thinking of cutting out benzos altogether. They will be able to help you reduce your use safely and carefully.